Part 4 out of 10
day to learn that all these marriages were not only happy, but set with
the brilliance of wealth and fashion. When Hamilton was introduced to
the famous white hall of the Schuyler mansion on the hill, Cornelia and
Peggy were still free in all but fancy; Elizabeth, by far the best
behaved, was the hope of Mrs. Schuyler's well-regulated soul and one of
the belles of the Revolution. Hamilton was enchanted with her, although
his mind was too weighted for love. Her spirits were as high as his own,
and they talked and laughed until midnight as gaily as were Gates's army
marching south. But Hamilton was a philosopher; nothing could be done
before the morrow; he might as well be happy and forget. He had met many
clever and accomplished American women by this, and Lady Kitty Alexander
and Kitty and Susan Livingston were brilliant. He had also met Angelica
Church, or Mrs. Carter, as she was called, one of the cleverest and most
high-spirited women of her time. It had crossed his mind that had she
been free, he might have made a bold dash for so fascinating a creature,
but it seemed to him to-night that on the whole he preferred her sister.
"Betsey" Schuyler had been given every advantage of education,
accomplishment, and constant intercourse with the best society in the
land. She had skill and tact in the management of guests, and without;
being by any means a woman of brilliant parts, understood the questions
of the day; her brain was informed with shrewd common sense. Hamilton
concluded that she was quite clever enough, and was delighted with her
beauty, her charm of manner, and style. Her little figure was graceful
and distinguished, her complexion the honey and claret that artists
extol, and she had a pair of big black eyes which were alternately
roguish, modest, tender, sympathetic; there were times when they were
very lively, and even suggested a temper. She was bright without
attempting to be witty, but that she was deeply appreciative of wit
Hamilton had soothing cause to know. And he had learned from the
admiring Troup that she was as intrepid as she was wholly and daintily
feminine. Altogether, Hamilton's fate was sealed when he bent over her
hand that night, although he was far from suspecting it, so heavily did
duty press the moment he was alone in his rooms.
On the following morning he asked for an interview with General Schuyler
and several other military men whom he knew to be friendly to
Washington, and they confirmed the advice of Troup. In the afternoon he
wrote to Gates a letter that was peremptory, although dignified and
circumspect, demanding the addition of a superior brigade. He expressed
his indignation in no measured terms, and in more guarded phrases his
opinion of the flimsiness of the victorious General's arguments. Gates
sent the troops at once, and despatched a volume of explanation to
Hamilton set out immediately for New Windsor, Troup bearing him company
the greater part of the way, for he was feeling very ill. But he forgot
his ailments when he arrived. To his fury he discovered that not a
regiment had gone south. Two of the brigades, which had received no pay
for eight months, had mutinied, and he was obliged to ask Governor
Clinton to borrow $5000, with which to pay them off. He had the
satisfaction of despatching them, wrote a peremptory letter to Putnam,
who had other plans brewing, another to Gates, asking for further
reinforcements, then went to bed in Governor Clinton's house with fever
and rheumatism. But he wrote to Washington, apprising him of a scheme
among the officers of the northern department to recover the city of New
York, and denouncing Putnam in the most emphatic terms. Two days later
he recovered sufficiently to proceed to Fishkill, where he wrested
troops from Putnam, and ascertained that heavy British reinforcements
had gone from that neighbourhood to Howe. He wrote at once to
Washington, advising him of his peril, and endeavoured to push on; but
his delicate frame would stand no more, and on the 15th he went to bed
in Mr. Kennedy's house in Peekskill, with so violent an attack of
rheumatism that to his bitter disgust he was obliged to resign himself
to weeks of inactivity. But he had the satisfaction to receive a letter
from Washington approving all that he had done. And in truth he had
saved the situation, and Washington never forgot it.
Hamilton rejoined the army at Valley Forge and soon recovered his health
and spirits. It was well that the spirits revived, for no one else
during that terrible winter could lay claim to any. The Headquarters
were in a small valley, shut in by high hills white with snow and black
with trees that looked like iron. The troops were starving and freezing
and dying a mile away, muttering and cursing, but believing in
Washington. On a hill beyond the pass Lafayette was comfortable in
quarters of his own, but bored and fearing the worst. Laurens chafed at
the inaction; he would have had a battle a day. As the winter wore on,
the family succumbed to the depressing influence of unrelieved monotony
and dread of the future, and only Hamilton knew to what depths of
anxiety Washington could descend. But despair had no part in Hamilton's
creed. He had perfect faith in the future, and announced it
persistently. He assumed the mission of keeping the family in good
cheer, and they gave him little time for his studies. As for Washington,
even when Hamilton was not at his desk, he made every excuse to demand
his presence in the private office; and Hamilton in his prayers
humorously thanked his Almighty for the gift of a cheerful disposition.
It may be imagined what a relief it was when he and Laurens, Meade, or
Tilghman raced each other up the icy gorge to Lafayette's, where they
were often jollier the night through than even a cheerful disposition
would warrant. Hamilton, although he had not much of a voice, learned
one camp-song, "The Drum," and this he sang with such rollicking abandon
that it fetched an explosive sigh of relief from the gloomiest breast.
There were other duties from which Hamilton fled to the house on the
hill for solace. Valley Forge harboured a heterogeneous collection of
foreigners, whose enthusiasm had impelled them to offer swords and
influence to the American cause: Steuben, Du Portail, De Noailles,
Custine, Fleury, Du Plessis, the three brothers Armand, Ternant,
Pulaski, and Kosciusko. They had a thousand wants, a thousand
grievances, and as Washington would not be bothered by them, their daily
recourse was Hamilton, whom they adored. To him they could lament in
voluble French; he knew the exact consolation to administer to each, and
when it was advisable he laid their afflictions before Washington or the
Congress. They bored him not a little, but he sympathized with them in
their Cimmerian exile, and it was necessary to keep them in the country
for the sake of the moral effect. But he congratulated himself on his
capacity for work.
"I used to wish that a hurricane would come and blow Cruger's store to
Hell," he said one day to Laurens, "but I cannot be sufficiently
thankful for that experience now. It made me as methodical as a machine,
gave my brain a system without which I never could cope with this mass
of work. I have this past week dried the tears of seven Frenchmen,
persuaded Steuben that he is not Europe, nor yet General Washington, and
without too much offending him, written a voluminous letter to Gates
calculated to make him feel what a contemptible and traitorous ass he
is, yet giving him no chance to run, blubbering, with it to the
Congress, and official letters _ad nauseum_. I wish to God I were out of
it all, and about to ride into battle at the head of a company of my
"And how many widows have you consoled?" asked Laurens. He was huddled
in his cot, trying to keep warm.
"None," said Hamilton, with some gloom. "I haven't spoken to a woman for
It was a standing joke at Headquarters that Washington always sent
Hamilton to console the widows. This he did with such sympathy and tact,
such address and energy, that his friends had occasionally been forced
to extricate him from complications. But it was an accomplishment in
which he excelled as long as he lived.
"The Chief will never let you go," pursued Laurens. "And as there is no
one to take your place, you really should not wish it. Washington may be
the army, but you are Washington's brain, and of quite as much
importance. You should never forget--"
"Come out and coast. That will warm your blood," interrupted Hamilton.
His own sense of duty was not to be surpassed, but he had rebellious
moods, when preaching suggested fisticuffs.
Outside they met a messenger from Lafayette, begging them to repair to
his quarters at once. There they found him entertaining a party of
charming women from a neighbouring estate; and a half-hour later the
dignity and fashion of Washington's family might have been seen coasting
down a steep hill with three Philadelphian exiles, who were as
accomplished in many ways as they were satisfying to look upon.
It was one of those days when a swift freeze has come with a rain-storm.
Hamilton had stood at the window of the office for an hour, early in the
day, biting the end of his quill, and watching the water change to ice
as it struck the naked trees, casing every branch until, when the sun
came out, the valley was surrounded by a diamond forest, the most
radiant and dazzling of winter sights. The sun was still out, its light
flashed back from a million facets, the ground was hard and white, the
keen cold air awoke the blood, and the three young men forgot their
grumblings, and blessed the sex which has alleviated man's burdens so
oft and well.
In June the military ardours of this distinguished young trio were
gratified to the point of temporary exhaustion. The British evacuated
Philadelphia on the 18th, and proceeded up the Delaware in New Jersey.
Captain Allan McLane had, as early as May 25th, reported to Washington
the enemy's intention to change their quarters for New York, and
Washington's desire was to crush them by a decisive blow. At a council
of war, however, it was decided merely to hang upon the skirts of the
retreating army and avoid an engagement. Lee was aggressive, almost
insulting, in counselling inaction, Washington, much embarrassed, but
hesitating to ignore the decisions of the council, followed the enemy by
a circuitous route, until he reached the neighbourhood of Princeton. The
British were in and about Allentown. Washington called another council
of war, and urged the propriety of forcing an engagement before the
enemy could reach the Heights of Monmouth. Again Lee overruled, being
sustained by the less competent generals, who were in the majority. As
soon as the council broke up, Hamilton sought out General Greene and led
him aside, Greene was white and dejected, but Hamilton's face was hot,
and his eyes were flashing.
"I believe that Lee is in the pay of the British or the Conway Cabal,"
he exclaimed. "I've always believed him ready at any minute to turn
traitor. It's a pity he wasn't left to rot in prison. Washington must
fight. His honour is at stake. If he lets the British walk off while we
sit and whistle, his influence with the army will be gone, Europe will
have no more of him, the Conway Cabal will have the excuse it's been
watching at keyholes for, and Gates will be Commander-in-chief
to-morrow. Will you come with me and persuade him to fight?"
"Yes," said Greene. "And I believe he will. You are like a sudden cold
wind on an August day. Come on."
They walked rapidly toward Washington's tent. He was sitting on his
camp-stool, but rose as they approached.
"Gentlemen," he said, "I anticipate the object of your visit. You wish
me to fight."
"Yes!" exclaimed Hamilton. "As much as you wish it yourself. Why should
you regard the councils of the traitorous and the timorous, who, for
aught you know, may be in the pay of the Cabal? If the British retreat
unmolested, the American army is disgraced. If Congress undertake to
manage it, the whole cause will be lost, and the British will be
stronger far than when we took up arms--"
"Enough," said Washington. "We fight"
He ordered a detachment of one thousand men, under General Wayne, to
join the troops nearest the enemy. Lafayette was given the command of
all the advance troops--Lee sulkily retiring in his favour--which
amounted to about four thousand. Hamilton was ordered to accompany him
and reconnoitre, carry messages between the divisions, and keep
Washington informed of the movements of the enemy. There was but a
chance that he would be able to fight, but the part assigned to him was
not the least dangerous and important at Washington's disposal. The
Chief moved forward with the main body of the army to Cranbury.
Clinton had no desire to fight, being encumbered with a train of
baggage-wagons and bathorses, which with his troops made a line on the
highroad twelve miles long. It being evident that the Americans intended
to give battle, he encamped in a strong position near Monmouth
Court-house, protected on nearly all sides by woods and marshes. His
line extended on the right about a mile and a half beyond the
Court-house, and on the left, along the road toward Allentown, for about
This disposition compelled Washington to increase the advance corps, and
he ordered Lee to join Lafayette with two brigades. As senior officer,
Lee assumed command of the whole division, under orders to make the
first attack. Both Lafayette and Hamilton were annoyed and apprehensive
at this arrangement. "Washington is the shrewdest of men in his
estimates until it is a matter of personal menace," said Hamilton, "and
then he is as trusting as a country wench with a plausible villain. I
thought we had delivered him from this scoundrel, and now he has
deliberately placed his fortunes in his hands again. Mark you, Lee will
serve us some trick before the battle is over."
Hamilton had been galloping back and forth night and day between
Lafayette's division and Headquarters, wherever they happened to be,
and reconnoitring constantly. The weather was intensely hot, the soil so
sandy that his horse often floundered. He had not had a full night's
sleep since Washington announced his decision to give battle, and he
would have been worn out, had he not been too absorbed and anxious to
retain any consciousness of his body. Early on the morning of the 28th,
a forward movement being observed on the part of the enemy, Washington
immediately put the army in motion and sent word to Lee to press forward
Lee looked uglier and dirtier than usual, and the very seat of his
breeches scowled as he rode forward leisurely. In a few moments he
halted, word having been brought him that the main body of the British
"If we could but court-martial him on the spot," groaned Lafayette,
whose delicate boyish face was crumpled with anxiety.
"He meditates treason!" exclaimed Hamilton. "It is writ all over him."
Having ascertained that the rumour was false, Lee consented to move on
again, and the division entered the forest, their advance covered from
the British on the plains beyond. For a time Lee manoeuvred so cleverly
that Hamilton and Lafayette permitted themselves to hope. Under cover of
the forest he formed a portion of his line for action, and with Wayne,
Hamilton, and others, rode forward to reconnoitre. Concluding that the
column of the British deploying on the right was only a covering party
of two thousand, he manoeuvred to cut them off from the main army. Wayne
was detached with seven hundred men to attack the covering party in the
rear. Lee, with a stronger force, was to gain its front by a road to the
left. Small detachments were concealed in the woods. At nine o'clock,
the Queen's dragoons being observed upon an eminence near the wood, Lee
ordered his light-horse to decoy them to the point where Wayne was
posted. The dragoons appeared to fall into the trap, but upon being
attacked from the wood, galloped off toward the main column. Wayne
started in pursuit; his artillery was raking them, and he had ordered a
charge at the point of the bayonet, when, to his amazement, he received
an order from Lee to make but a feint of attack and pursuit. He had no
choice but to obey, brilliant as might be the victory wrested from him.
Lee, meanwhile, dawdled about, although his troops were on one foot with
Suddenly Sir Henry Clinton, learning that the Americans were marching in
force on both his flanks, with the design of capturing his baggage,
changed the front of his army by facing about in order to attack Wayne
with such deadly fire that the enemy on his flanks would be obliged to
fly to the succour of that small detachment. Lafayette immediately saw
the opportunity for victory in the rear of the enemy, and rode up to Lee
asking permission to make the attempt.
Lee swung his loose head about and scowled at the ardent young
Frenchman. "Sir," he replied witheringly, "you do not know British
soldiers. We cannot stand against them. We certainly shall be driven
back at first. We must be cautious."
"It may be so, General," replied Lafayette, who would have given much to
see that head rolling on the sands; "but British soldiers have been
beaten, and they may be again. At any rate, I am disposed to make the
Lee shrugged his shoulders, but as Lafayette sat immovable, his clear
hazel eyes interrogating and astonished, he reluctantly gave the Marquis
the order to wheel his column to the right and attack the enemy's left.
He simultaneously weakened Wayne's detachment and went off to
reconnoitre. He afterward claimed that he saw what looked to be the
approach of the entire army, and he ordered his right to fall back. The
brigades of Scott and Maxwell on the left were already moving forward
and approaching the right of the Royal forces, when they received an
order from Lee to reenter the wood. At the same time an order was sent
to Lafayette to fall back to the Court-house. With a face as flaming as
his unpowdered head, he obeyed. Upon reaching the Court-house he learned
that a general retreat had begun on the right, under the immediate
command of Lee. He had no choice but to follow.
Hamilton, hardly crediting that his worst fears were realized in this
unwarranted retreat, galloped over to Lee and urged that possession be
taken of a neighbouring hill that commanded the plain on which the enemy
were advancing. But Lee protested violently that the Americans had not a
chance against that solid phalanx, and Hamilton, now convinced that he
meditated the disgrace of the American arms, galloped with all speed in
search of Washington.
The retreat, by this, was a panic. The troops fled like an army of
terrified rabbits, with that reversion to the simplicity of their dumb
ancestors which induces the suspicion that all the manly virtues are
artificial. In times of panic man seems to exchange his soul for a tail.
These wretches trampled each other into the shifting sand, and crowded
many more into the morass. The heat was terrific. They ran with their
tongues hanging out, and many dropped dead.
Washington heard of the retreat before Hamilton found him. He was
pushing on to Lee's relief when a country-man brought him word of the
disgraceful rout. Washington refused to credit the report and spurred
forward. Halfway between the meeting-house and the morass he met the
head of the first retreating column. He commanded it to halt at once,
before the panic be communicated to the main army; then made for Lee.
Lee saw him coming and braced himself for the shock. But it was a
greater man than Lee who could stand the shock of Washington's temper.
He was fearfully roused. The noble gravity of his face had disappeared.
It was convulsed with rage.
"Sir," he thundered, "I desire to know what is the reason of this?
Whence arises this confusion and disorder?"
"Sir--" stammered Lee, "sir--" He braced himself, and added impudently:
"I thought it best not to beard the enemy in such a situation. It was
contrary to my opinion--"
"_Your_ opinion!" And then the Chief undammed a torrent of profanity
Washingtonian in its grandeur.
He wheeled and galloped to the rallying of the troops. At this moment
Hamilton rode up. He had ridden through the engagement without a hat. It
seemed to him that he could hear the bubbling of his brain, that the
very air blazed, and that the end of all things had come. That day of
Monmouth ever remained in his memory as the most awful and hopeless of
his life. An ordinary defeat was nothing. But the American arms branded
with cowardice, Washington ignobly deposed, inefficient commanders
floundering for a few months before the Americans were become the
laughing-stock of Europe,--the whole vision was so hideous, and the day
so hopeless in the light of those cowardly hordes, that he galloped
through the rain of British bullets, praying for death; he had lost all
sense of separate existence from the shattered American cause. He did
not perceive that Washington had reached the column, and resolved to
make one more appeal to Lee, he rode up to that withered culprit and
"I will stay with you, my dear General, and die with you! Let us all die
here, rather than retreat!"
Lee made no reply. His brain felt as if a hot blast had swept it.
"At least send a detachment to the succour of the artillery," said
Hamilton, with quick suspicion. And Lee ordered Colonel Livingston to
At the same moment some one told Hamilton that Washington was in the
rear, rallying the troops. He spurred his horse and found that the
General had rallied the regiments of Ramsay and Stewart, after a rebuke
under which they still trembled, and was ordering Oswald to hasten his
cannon to the eminence which his aide had suggested to Lee. Hamilton
himself was in time to intercept two retreating brigades. He succeeded
in rallying them, formed them along a fence at hand, and ordered them to
charge at the point of the bayonet. He placed himself at their head, and
they made a brilliant dash upon the enemy. But his part was soon over.
His horse was shot under him, and as he struck the ground he was
overcome by the shock and the heat, and immediately carried from the
field. But the retreat was suspended, order restored, and although the
battle raged all day, the British gained no advantage. The troops were
so demoralized by the torrid heat that at sunset both Commanders were
obliged to cease hostilities; and Washington, who had been in the saddle
since daybreak, threw himself under a tree to sleep, confident of a
victory on the morrow.
"I had a feeling as if my very soul were exploding," said Hamilton to
Laurens, as they bathed their heads in a stream in the woods, with the
bodies of dead and living huddled on every side of them. "I had a
hideous vision of Washington and the rest of us in a huge battle
picture, in which a redcoat stood on every squirming variety of
continental uniform, while a screeching eagle flew off with the
Declaration of Independence. But after all, there is something
magnificent in so absolutely identifying yourself with a cause that you
go down to its depths of agony and fly to its heights of exaltation. I
was mad to die when the day--and with it the whole Cause--seemed lost.
Patriotism surely is the master passion. Nothing else can annihilate the
Laurens, who had performed prodigies of valour, sighed heavily. "I felt
as you did while the engagement lasted," he replied. "But I went into
the battle with exultation, for death this time seemed inevitable. And
the only result is a headache. What humiliation!"
"You are morbid, my dear," said Hamilton, tenderly. "You cannot persuade
me that at the age of twenty-five naught remains but death--no matter
what mistakes one may have made. There is always the public career--for
which you are eminently fitted. I would begin life over again twenty
times if necessary."
"Yes, because you happen to be a man of genius. I am merely a man of
parts. There are many such. Not only is my life ruined, but every day I
despair anew of ever attaining that high ideal of character I have set
for myself. I want nothing short of perfection," he said passionately.
"Could I attain that, I should be content to live, no matter how
wretched. But I fall daily. My passions control me, my hatreds, my
impulses of the moment. When a man's very soul aches for a purity which
it is in man to attain if he will, and when he is daily reminded that he
is but a whimperer at the feet of the statue, the world is no place for
"Laurens," said Hamilton, warmly, "you refine on the refinements of
sensibility. You have brooded until you no longer are normal and capable
of logic. Compare your life with that of most men, and hope. You are but
twenty-five, and you have won a deathless glory, by a valour and
brilliancy on these battlefields that no one else has approached. Your
brain and accomplishments are such that the country looks to you as one
of its future guides. Your character is that of a Bayard. It is your
passions alone, my dear, which save you from being a prig. Passion is
the furnace that makes greatness possible. If, when the mental energies
are resting, it darts out tongues of flame that strike in the wrong
place, I do not believe that the Almighty, who made us, counts them as
sins. They are natural outlets, and we should burst without them. If one
of those tongues of flame was the cause of your undoing, God knows you
have paid in kind. As a rule no one is the worse, while most are better.
A certain degree of perfection we can attain, but absolute
perfection--go into a wilderness like Mohammed and fast. There is no
other way, and even then you merely would have visions; you would not be
Laurens laughed. "It is not easy to be morbid when you are by. Acquit me
for the rest of the night. And it is time we slept. There will be hot
work to-morrow. How grandly the Chief rallied! There is a man!"
"He was in a blazing temper," remarked Hamilton. "Lee and Ramsay and
Stewart were like to have died of fright. I wish to God he'd strung the
first to a gibbet!"
They sought out Washington and lay down beside him. The American army
slept as though its soul had withdrawn to another realm where repose is
undisturbed. Not so the British army. Sir Henry Clinton did not share
Washington's serene confidence in the morrow. He withdrew his weary army
in the night, and was miles away when the dawn broke.
Once Washington awoke, raised himself on his elbow, and listened
intently. But he could hear nothing but the deep breathing of his weary
army. The stars were brilliant. He glanced about his immediate vicinity
with a flicker of amusement and pleasure in his eyes. The young men of
his household were crowded close about him; he had nearly planted his
elbow on Hamilton's profile. Laurens, Tilghman, Meade, even Lafayette,
were there, and they barely had left him room to turn over. He knew that
these worshipping young enthusiasts were all ready and eager to die for
him, and that in spite of his rigid formality they were quite aware of
his weak spot, and did not hesitate to manifest their affection. For a
moment the loneliest man on earth felt as warmly companioned as if he
were raising a family of rollicking boys; then he gently lifted Hamilton
out of the way, and slept again. He was bitterly disappointed next
morning; but to pursue the enemy in that frightful heat, over a sandy
country without water, and with his men but half refreshed, was out of
The rest of the year was uneventful, except for the court-martialling of
Lee and his duel with Laurens, who challenged him for his defamation of
Washington. Then came the eventful winter of 1779-80, when the army went
into quarters at Morristown, Washington and his military family taking
possession of a large house belonging to the Widow Ford.
"Alexander!" cried a musical but imperious voice.
Hamilton was walking in the depths of the wood, thinking out his
financial policy for the immediate relief of the country. He started and
faced about. Kitty Livingston sat on her horse, a charming picture in
the icy brilliance of the wood. He ran toward her, ripped off her
glove, kissed her hand, replaced the glove, then drew back and saluted.
"You are a saucy boy," said Miss Livingston, "and I've a mind to box
your ears. I've brought you up very badly; but upon my word, if you were
a few years older, I believe I'd marry you and keep you in order,
something no other woman will ever be able to do. But I've a piece of
news for you--my dear little brother. Betsey Schuyler is here."
Alexander, much to his annoyance, blushed vividly. "And how can you know
that I have ever even seen Miss Schuyler?" he asked, rather sulkily.
"_She_ told me all about it, my dear. And I inferred from the young
lady's manner that she lived but to renew the experience. She is down at
Surgeon-General Cochraine's. Mrs. Cochraine is her aunt. Seriously, I
want you to be a good little beau, and keep her here as long as
possible. She is a great addition to our society; for she is not only
one of the belles of the country, accomplished and experienced, but she
has an amazing fine character, and I am anxious to know her better. You
are still too young to marry, _mon enfant_, but you are so precocious
and Miss Schuyler is so charming--if you will marry at your absurd age,
you could not do better; for you'll get fine parents as well as a wife,
and I've never known a youth more in need of an entire family."
Hamilton laughed. "If I accumulate any more parents," he said, "I shall
share the fate of the cat. This morning Colonel Harrison--one of my
fathers--almost undressed me to see if my flannels were thick enough,
Mrs. Washington gave me a fearful scolding because I went out without a
muffler, and even the General is always darting edged glances at the
soles of my boots. Yesterday, Laurens, who is two-thirds English, tried
to force an umbrella into my hand, but at that I rebelled. If I marry,
it will be for the pleasure of taking care of someone else."
He escorted Miss Livingston out to the highroad, and returned to
Headquarters, his imagination dancing. He had by no means forgotten Miss
Schuyler. That merry roguish high-bred face had shone above many dark
horizons, illuminated many bitter winter nights at Valley Forge. He was
excited at the prospect of seeing her again, and hastened to arrange a
dinner, to which she must be bidden. The young men did as they chose
about entertaining, sure of Washington's approval.
"Ah, I know Miss Schuyler well," exclaimed Tilghman, when Hamilton
remarked that they should immediately show some attention to the
daughter of so illustrious a man as General Schuyler. "I've fetched and
carried for her--in fact I once had the honour to be despatched by her
mamma to buy her a pair of stays. I fell at her little feet immediately.
She has the most lively dark good-natured eyes I ever saw--Good God,
Hamilton, are you going to run me through?"
Hamilton for the moment was so convulsed with jealous rage that his very
fingers curved, and he controlled them from his friend's throat with an
effort. Tilghman's words brought him to his senses, and he laughed
heartily. "I was as jealous as Othello, if you'll have the truth, and
just why, I vow I don't know, for I met this young lady only once, and
that a year ago. I was much attracted, but it's not possible I'm in love
"It's love, my dear boy," said Tilghman, gravely. "Go and ask Steuben if
I am not right. Laurens and I will arrange the dinner. You attend to
your case immediately."
Hamilton, much concerned, repaired to the house of Baron Steuben. This
old courtier and rake was physician in ordinary to all the young men in
their numerous cardiacal complications. Hamilton found him in his little
study, smoking a huge meerschaum. His weather-beaten face grinned with
delight at the appearance of his favourite, but he shook his head
solemnly at the revelation.
"I fear this time you are shot, my dear little Hamilton," he said, with
much concern. "Have you told me all?"
"All that I can think of." Hamilton was sitting forward on the edge of
the chair in considerable dejection. He had not expected this
intrication, had hoped the Baron would puff it away.
"Has she a neat waist?"
Hamilton admitted, with some surprise, that her waist was exceptional.
"And her eyes?--I have heard of them--benevolent, yet sparkling;--and a
daughter of the Schuylers. Hamilton, believe me, there are worse things
"But I have affairs of the utmost moment on hand at present. I'm
revolving a whole financial system, and the correspondence grows heavier
every day. I've no time for love."
"My boy," said the former aide to the great Frederick, with emphasis,
"when you can work in the sun, why cling to the cold corner of a public
hearth? Your brain will spin the faster for the fire underneath. You
will write great words and be happy besides. Think of that. What a
combination! Mein Gott! You will be terribly in love, my son, but your
balance is so extraordinary that your brain will work on just the same.
Otherwise I would not dare give such counsel, for without you General
Washington would give up, and your poor old Steuben would not have money
for tobacco. Give me just one half-sovereign," he added coaxingly.
Hamilton examined the big tobacco pouch and found it two-thirds full.
"Not a penny," he said gaily. "The day after to-morrow I will buy you
some myself, but I know where that last sovereign went to."
Hamilton took care of the old spendthrift's money, and not only then but
as long as he lived. "The Secretary of the Treasury is my banker," said
Steuben, years after. "My Hamilton takes care of my money when he cannot
take care of his own."
Hamilton retired in some perturbation, and the result of much thinking
was that he spent an unconscionable time over his toilet on the evening
of the dinner. In his nervousness he tore one of his lace ruffles.
Laurens attempted to mend it, and the rent waxed. Hamilton was forced to
knock at Mrs. Washington's door and ask her to repair the injury. She
was already dressed, in a black lutestring, her hair flat and natural.
She looked approvingly at Hamilton, who, not excepting Laurens, was
always the most faultlessly dressed member of the family. To-night he
wore dark green velvet, fitting closely and exquisitely cut, white silk
stockings, and a profusion of delicate lace. His hair was worn in a
queue and powdered. It was not till some years later that he conformed
to the prevailing fashion and wore a wig.
Mrs. Washington mended the lace, retied the bow of his queue, kissed him
and told him to forget the cares of war and correspondence, and enjoy
himself. Hamilton retired, much comforted.
It was an imposing family which, a half-hour later, awaited the guests
in the drawing-room. Washington was in black velvet and silk stockings,
his best white wig spreading in two symmetrical wings. It was a cold
grave figure always, and threw an air of solemnity over every scene it
loomed upon, which only Hamilton's lively wit could dispel. Laurens wore
plum-coloured velvet and much lace, a magnificent court costume. His own
figure was no less majestic than Washington's, but his brown eyes and
full mouth were almost invariably smiling, despite the canker. He wore a
very close wig. Tilghman was in blue, the other men in more sober dress.
Lafayette some time since had departed for France, Hamilton having
suggested that the introduction of a French military force of six or
seven thousand troops would have a powerful effect upon the American
army and people.
Lady Sterling arrived with Lady Kitty--the bride of Colonel William Duer
since July--her undistinguished homeliness enhancing the smart
appearance of her daughter, who was one of the beauties of the time.
Lady Kitty had a long oval face, correct haughty little features, and a
general air of extreme high breeding. Her powdered hair was in a tower,
and she had the tiniest waist and stood upon the highest heels of all
the belles. She wore white satin over an immense hoop, a flounce of
Spanish lace and a rope of pearls. Kitty Livingston wore yellow which
outshone the light of the candles. Susan Boudinot and the other girls
were dressed more simply. Mr. Boudinot's eyes were as keen and as kind
as ever, his nose seemed longer, and the flesh was accumulating beneath
The Cochraines and Miss Elizabeth Schuyler were the last to arrive. The
northern belle's wardrobe had been an object of much concern to the
young ladies now cut off from New York shops, and lamenting the
demoralized condition of those in Philadelphia. In Albany all things
were still possible. Miss Schuyler wore a pink brocade of the richest
and most delicate quality, and a bertha of Brussels lace. The pointed
bodice and large paniers made her waist look almost as small as Kitty
Duer's, and her feet were the tiniest in the world. She turned them in
and walked with a slight shuffle. Hamilton had never seen a motion so
adorable. Her hair was rolled out from her face on both sides as well as
above, and so thickly powdered that her eyes looked as black as General
Washington's coat, while her cheeks and lips were like red wine on pale
amber. She blushed as Hamilton bowed before her and offered his arm, and
then she felt his heart thump. As for Hamilton, he gave himself up for
lost the moment she entered the room, and with the admission, his
feelings concentrated with their usual fiery impetuosity. As it was too
soon for an outlet, they rushed to his eyes and camped there, to Miss
Schuyler's combined discomfort and delight.
For once Hamilton was content to listen, and Miss Schuyler was not loath
to entertain this handsome young aide, of whom all the world was
talking, and who had haunted her dreams for a year. She had read Milton,
Shenstone, and Dodsworth, "The Search after Happiness," by Hannah More,
the works of Madame de Genlis, the "Essay on Man," and Shakespeare's
lighter plays. Her learning was not oppressive, merely sufficient to
give distinction to her mind, and Hamilton was enchanted once more; but
he found her most interesting when relating personal anecdotes of
encounters with savage warriors in that dark northern land where she had
been born and bred, of hideous massacres of which her neighbours had
been the victims, of adventurous journeys she had taken with her father,
of painted chieftains they had been forced to entertain. She talked
with great spirit and no waste of words, and it was evident that she was
both sensible and heroic. Hamilton ate little and forgot that he was in
a company of twenty people. He was recalled by an abraded shin.
He turned with a jump and encountered Meade's agonized face thrust
across Susan Livingston, who sat between them.
"For God's sake, Hamilton, come forth and talk," said Meade, in a hoarse
whisper. "There hasn't been a word said above a mutter for
three-quarters of an hour. Tilghman gave out long ago. Unless you come
to the rescue we'll all be moaning in each other's arms in three
Hamilton glanced about the table. Washington, looking like himself on a
monument, was making not a pretence to entertain poor Lady Sterling, who
was almost sniffling. Lord Sterling, having gratified, an hour since,
Mrs. Washington's polite interest in his health, was stifling yawn after
yawn, and his chubby little visage was oblong and crimson. Tilghman,
looking guilty and uncomfortable,--it was his duty to relieve Hamilton
at the table,--was flirting with Miss Boudinot. Lady Kitty and Baron
Steuben always managed to entertain each other. Laurens and Kitty
Livingston were sitting back and staring at each other as they had
stared many times before. The others were gazing at their plates or at
Hamilton. It was, indeed, a Headquarters dinner at the worst.
It has been remarked that Hamilton had a strong sense of duty. He felt
himself unable, even with the most charming girl on the continent beside
him, to resist the appeal of all those miserable eyes, and launched
forth at once upon the possibilities of Lafayette returning with an
army. Everybody responded, and he had many subjects of common interest
to discourse brilliantly upon until the long meal finished. Even
Washington gave him a grateful glance, and the others reattacked their
excellent food with a lost relish, now that the awful silence and sense
of personal failure were dispelled by their "bright particular star," as
the letters of the day from Morristown and the vicinity cleped our
hero. But with Miss Schuyler he had no further word that night, and he
retired with the conviction that there were times when there was no
satisfaction whatever in doing one's duty.
But a few nights later there was a subscription ball in the commissary
storehouse, and Hamilton danced with Miss Schuyler no less than ten
times, to the merciless amusement of the family. The ball, the first of
any size since the war began, was a fine affair, and had been organized
by Tilghman, Meade, and several of the Frenchmen; they were determined
upon one gay season, at least. The walls were covered with flags and
holly; the women wore their most gorgeous brocades; feathers and jewels
were on becoming white wigs or on the towers of powdered hair. All the
foreigners were in full regimentals, Steuben, in particular, being half
covered with gold lace and orders; the music and supper were admirable.
Even Washington looked less careworn than usual, and as he stood apart
with Lord Sterling, General Knox, and General Greene, he shed no
perceptible chill. Miss Schuyler wore white, with a twist of black
velvet in her powdered hair and another about her throat, and would have
been the belle of the party had Hamilton permitted other attentions. But
she gave him all the dances he demanded, and although her bright manner
did not lapse toward sentiment for a moment, he went home so elated that
he sat scribbling poetry until Laurens pelted him with pillows and
extinguished the candle.
The next day there was a sleighing party to Lord Sterling's, and he
drove Miss Schuyler, her aunt, and the wife of General Knox through the
white and crystal and blue of a magnificent winter day. Mrs. Cochraine
made no secret of her pride in her niece's capture of Washington's
celebrated favourite, and assured him of a hearty welcome at her house
if he felt disposed to call. He promptly established the habit of
calling every evening.
But although he was seriously and passionately in love, and quite sure
that Miss Schuyler loved him in return, he hesitated for the first time
in his life before precipitating a desired consummation. That he had no
money did not worry him in the least, for he knew himself capable of
earning any amount, and that the Republic, when free, would bristle with
opportunities for young men of parts. But he was in honour bound to tell
her of the irregularity of his birth. And in what manner would she
regard a possible husband with whose children she never could discuss
their father's parents? She was twenty-two, a small woman-of-the-world,
not a romantic young miss incapable of reason. And the Schuylers? The
proudest family in America! Would they take him on what he had made of
himself, on the promise of his future, or would their family pride prove
stronger than their common sense? He had moments of frantic doubt and
depression, but fortunately there was no time for protracted periods of
lover's misery. Washington demanded him constantly for consultation upon
the best possible method of putting animation into the Congress and
extracting money for the wretched troops. He frequently accompanied the
General, as at Valley Forge, in his visits to the encampment on the
mountain, where the emaciated tattered wretches were hutting with all
possible speed against the severity of another winter. The snow was
already on the ground, and every prospect of a repetition of the horrors
of Valley Forge. The mere sight of Washington put heart into them, and
Hamilton's lively sallies rarely failed to elicit a smile in return.
It so happened that for a fortnight the correspondence with Congress,
the States, the Generals, and the British, in regard to the exchange of
prisoners, was so heavy, the consultations with Washington so frequent,
that Hamilton saw nothing of Miss Schuyler, and had little time for the
indulgence of pangs. When he emerged, however, his mind was the freer to
seek a solution of the problem which had tormented him, and he quickly
found it. He determined to write the truth to Miss Schuyler, and so save
the embarrassment he had dreaded for both. To think was to act. He
related the facts of his birth and of his ancestry in the briefest
possible manner, adding a description of his mother which would leave no
question of the place she held in his esteem. He then stated, with the
emphasis of which he was master, that he distractedly awaited his
dismissal, or Miss Schuyler's permission to declare what he had so
He sent the letter by an orderly, and attacked his correspondence with a
desire to put gunpowder on his quill. But Miss Schuyler was a
tender-hearted creature and had no intention that he should suffer. She
scrawled him a hasty summons to come to her at once, and bade the
orderly ride as for his life. Hamilton, hearing a horse coming up the
turnpike at runaway pace, glanced out of the window to see what neck was
in danger, then flung his quill to the floor and bolted. He was out of
the house before the orderly had dismounted, and secured possession of
the note. When he had returned to his office, which was in a log
extension at the back of the building, he locked the door and read what
he could of Miss Schuyler's illegible chirography. That it was a command
to wait upon her at once he managed to decipher, but no more at the
moment; and feeling as if the heavens had opened, he despatched a hasty
note, telling her that he could not leave his work before night, when he
would hasten with the pent-up assurances of a love which had been his
torment and delight for many weeks. And then he answered a summons to
Washington's office, and discussed a letter to the Congress as if there
were no such person in the world as Elizabeth Schuyler, as indeed for
the hour there was not, nor for the rest of the afternoon.
But at eight o'clock he presented himself at the Cochraine quarters, and
Miss Schuyler was alone in the drawing-room. It was some time before
they arrived at the question which had weighed so heavily on Hamilton's
mind. When, however, they came down to conversation, Miss Schuyler
"I am sure that it will make no difference with my dear father, who is
the most just and sensible of men. I had never thought of your parentage
at all. I should have said you had leapt down from the abode of the
gods, for you are much too remarkable to have been merely born. But if
he should object--why, we'll run away."
Her eyes danced at the prospect, and Hamilton, who had vowed that
nothing should induce him to enter a family where he was not welcome,
was by now so hopelessly in love that he was ready to order the chaise
and four at once. He remained until Mrs. Cochraine sent him home, then
walked up the hill toward Headquarters, keeping to the road by instinct,
for he was deep in a reverie on the happiness of the past hours. His
dreams were cruelly shattered by the pressure of a bayonet against his
"What?" he demanded. "Oh, the countersign." He racked his memory. It had
fled, terrified, from his brain under the rush of that evening's
"I can't remember it," he said haughtily; "but you know who I am. Let me
pass." The sentry stood like a fate.
"This is ridiculous!" cried Hamilton, angrily, then the absurdity of the
situation overcame him, and he laughed. Once more he searched his brain
for the countersign, which he remembered having given to little Ford
just after dinner. Mrs. Ford and her son retained two rooms in the
house, and Hamilton frequently gave the youngster the word, that he
might play in the village after dark. Suddenly he saw him approaching.
He darted down the road, secured the password, and returned in triumph
to the sentry.
"Sir," exclaimed the soldier, in dismay, "is this quite regular? Will
you give me your word, sir, that it is all right?"
"I vow that no harm shall come to you," said Hamilton. "Shoulder your
musket." And there the incident ended, so far as the soldier was
concerned, but young Ford carried the story to Headquarters, and it was
long before Hamilton heard the last of it.
There was no sleep in him that night. He went to his office and laboured
for hours over a verse which should adequately express the love
consuming him, and then he awoke Laurens and talked into that
sympathetic ear until it was time to break the ice and freshen himself
His work that day was of a vastly different character from the
impassioned trifle of the night before. He obtained exemption from other
duty, and ordered luncheon and dinner brought to his office. One of the
most remarkable examples of Hamilton's mature genius at this age of
twenty-three is his long and elaborate letter to Robert Morris on the
financial condition of the country, written during the earliest period
of his love for Elizabeth Schuyler. As passionate and impatient as he
was tender, alive in every part of his nature to the joy of a real
affection and to the prospect of a lasting happiness, he yet was able
for twelve hours at a time to shut his impending bride in the remotest
cupboard of his mind, nor heed her sighs. But there was an older love
than Elizabeth Schuyler: a ragged poverty-stricken creature by this,
cowering before dangers within and without, raving mad at times,
imbecile at others, filling her shattered body with patent nostrums, yet
throughout her long course of futilities and absurdities making a
desperate attempt to shade the battered lamp of liberty from the fatal
draught. Her name was the United States of America, and never was there
a more satiric misnomer. If the States chose to obey the requisitions of
the Congress, they obeyed them; but as a rule they did not. There was no
power in the land to enforce obedience; and they hated each other. As
the Congress had demonstrated its inefficiency to the most inactive in
public affairs, the contempt of the States is hardly to be wondered at.
It is not too much to say that troops were recruited by Washington's
influence alone, and kept from mutiny by his immortal magnetism. The
finances of the Revolution were in such a desperate condition that Sir
Henry Clinton built his hopes of success--now he had discovered that no
victory gave him a permanent advantage--upon the dissolution of the
American army, possibly an internal war. With depreciated bills in
circulation amounting to one hundred and sixty millions of dollars, a
public debt of nearly forty millions in foreign and domestic loans, the
Congress had, in March, ordered a new emission of bills; the result had
been a season of crazy speculation and the expiring gasp of public
credit. In addition to an unpaid army, assurances had been given to the
French minister that not less than twenty-five thousand men should be
ready for the next campaign; and how to force the States to recruit
them, and how to pay them when in the field, was the present question
between Headquarters and Congress.
From the time that Hamilton's mind had turned to finance, in his
nineteenth year, he had devoted the greater part of his leisure to the
study and thought of it. Books on the subject were few in those days;
the science of political economy was unborn, so far as Hamilton was
concerned, for Adam Smith's "Wealth of Nations," published in 1776, had
not made its way to America. He assimilated all the data there was to be
found, then poured it into the crucible of his creative faculty, and
gradually evolved the great scheme of finance which is the locomotive of
the United States to-day. During many long winter evenings he had talked
his ideas over with Washington, and it was with the Chief's full
approval that he finally went to work on the letter embodying his scheme
for the immediate relief of the country. It was addressed to Robert
Morris, the Financier of the Revolution.
The first part of the letter was an essay on inflated and depreciated
currency, applied personally, the argument based on the three following
points: There having been no money in the country, Congress had been
unable to avoid the issuance of paper money. The only way to obtain and
retire this immense amount of depreciated paper money was to obtain real
money. Real money could be obtained in one way only,--by a foreign loan.
He then elaborately disposed of the proposed insane methods of applying
this projected loan which were agitating the Congress. But he was an
architect and builder as well as an iconoclast, and having shown the
futility of every financial idea ever conceived by Congress, he
proceeded to the remedy. His scheme, then as ever, was a National Bank,
to be called The Bank of the United States; the capital to be a foreign
loan of two millions sterling.
This letter, even in its details, in the knowledge of human nature it
betrays, and in its scheme to combine public and private capital that
the wealthy men of the country should, in their own interests, be
compelled to support the government, reads like an easy example in
arithmetic to-day; but a hundred and twenty years ago it was so bold and
advanced that Morris dared to adopt several of its suggestions in part
only, and founded the bank of Pennsylvania on the greater plan, by way
of experiment. No one but Hamilton could carry out his own theories.
Hamilton, who often had odd little attacks of modesty, signed the
letter, James Montague; address, Morristown. He read it to Washington
The Chief, whose men were aching, sighed heavily.
"They will pick a few crumbs out of it," he said. "But they will not
make a law of it in toto; the millennium is not yet come. But if it
gives them one idea we should be thankful, it being a long and weary
time since they have experienced that phenomenon. If it does not, I
doubt if these men fight another battle. I wonder if posterity will ever
realize the indifference of their three million ancestors to the war
which gave them their independence--if we accomplish that end. I ask for
soldiers and am treated much as if I had asked for my neighbour's wife.
I ask for money to keep them from starving and freezing and am made to
feel like an importunate beggar."
"I had a letter from Hugh Knox not so long since," said Hamilton, in his
lightest tone; for Washington was on the verge of one of his attacks of
infuriated depression, which were picturesque but wearing. "He
undertakes to play the prophet, and he is an uncommon clever man, sir:
he says that you were created for the express purpose of delivering
America, to do it single-handed, if necessary, and that my proud destiny
is to be your biographer. The first I indorse, so does every thinking
man in the country. But for the second--alas! I am not equal to a post
of such exalted honour."
Washington smiled. "No one knows better than your old Chief that your
destiny is no such ha'penny affair as that. But at least you wouldn't
make an ass of me. God knows what is in store for me at the hands of
"You lend yourself fatally well to marble and stone, sir," said
Hamilton, mischievously. "I fear your biographers will conceive
themselves writing at the feet of a New World Sphinx, and that its
frozen granite loneliness will petrify their image of you."
"I like the prospect! I am unhappily conscious of my power to chill an
assemblage, but the cold formality of my manner is a safeguard, as you
know. My nature is one of extremes; if I did not encase myself, I should
be ramming every man's absurd opinions down his throat, and letting my
cursed temper fly at each of the provocations which constantly beset me.
I have not the happy gift of compromise; but I am not unhuman, and I
like not the prospect of going down to posterity a wooden figurehead
upon some emblematic battle-ship. Perhaps, my boy, you, who best know
me, will be moved by charity to be my biographer, after all."
"I'll make it the business of my old age, sir; I pledge you my word, and
no one loves you better nor can do you such justice as I. When my work
in the National Family is done, then shall I retire with my literary
love, an old and pleasant love; and what higher subject for my pen?"
He spoke in a tone of badinage, for he was bent on screwing up
Washington's spirits, but he made his promise in good faith,
nevertheless, and Washington looked at him with deep affection.
"My mind is certainly easier," he said, in a tone that was almost light.
"Go now and post your letter, and give your evening to Miss Schuyler.
Present my compliments to her."
"I became engaged to her last night, sir."
"Ah! had you forgotten to tell me?"
"No, sir; I have but just remembered it."
Washington laughed heartily. "Mind you never tell her that," he said.
"Women love the lie that saves their pride, but never an unflattering
truth. You have learned your lesson young,--to put a tempting face aside
when duty demands every faculty; it is a lesson which takes most men
longest to learn. I could tell you some amusing stories of rough and
tumbles in my mind between the divine image of the hour and some affair
of highest moment. But to a brain like yours all things are possible."
He rose, and took Hamilton's hand and shook it warmly.
"God bless you," he said. "Your future unrolls to my vision, brilliant
and happy. I deeply wish that it may be so."
The letter from General Schuyler, giving his consent to the engagement,
has not been preserved; but some time after he had occasion to write
Hamilton a business letter, in which the following passage occurs:--
You cannot, my dear sir, be more happy at the connexion you have
made with my family than I am. Until the child of a parent has made
a judicious choice, his heart is in continual anxiety; but this
anxiety was removed on the moment I discovered it was on you she
had placed her affections. I am pleased with every instance of
delicacy in those who are so dear to me; and I think I read your
soul on the occasion you mention. I shall therefore only entreat
you to consider me as one who wishes in every way to promote your
General Schuyler was ordered by Congress to Morristown to confer with
Washington. He took a house, sent for his family, and remained until
late in the summer. The closest friendship was formed between Schuyler
and Hamilton, which, with common political interests and deepening
sympathy, increased from year to year. The good fairies of Nevis who had
attended Hamilton's birth never did better for him than when they gave
him Elizabeth Schuyler for wife and Philip Schuyler for father and
friend. And they had blasted the very roots of the chief impediment to
success, for he triumphed steadily and without effort over what has
poisoned the lives of many men; and triumphed in spite of the fact that
the truth was vaguely known always, and kept in the quiver of his
As Hamilton was absent from Headquarters but seldom during General
Schuyler's sojourn, the lovers met almost every evening, and
occasionally Washington, who possessed certain sympathies based on long
experience, would give Hamilton a morning free, and suggest a ride
through the woods. Never were two people happier nor more inherently
suited. Hamilton's instinct had guided him safely past more brilliant
women to one who willingly would fold herself round his energetic
individuality of many parts, fitting into every division and crevice.
She was receptive, sympathetic, adaptive, with sufficient intelligence
to appreciate the superlative brain of the man whom she never ceased to
worship and to regard as a being of unmortal clay. A brilliant ambitious
wife in the same house with Hamilton might have written a picturesque
diary, but the domestic instrument would have twanged with discords.
Hamilton was unselfish, and could not do enough for those he loved; but
he was used to the first place, to the unquestioned yielding of it to
his young high-mightiness by his clever aspiring friends, by the army of
his common acquaintance, and in many ways by Washington himself. Had he
married Angelica Schuyler, that independent, high-spirited, lively,
adorable woman, probably they would have boxed each other's ears at the
end of a week.
Hamilton made the dash on Staten Island with Lord Sterling, and in March
went with General St. Clair and Colonel Carrington to negotiate with the
British commissioners for the exchange of prisoners; before the battle
of Springfield he was sent out to reconnoitre. Otherwise his days were
taken up bombarding the Congress with letters representing the necessity
of drafting troops to meet the coming emergencies.
He and Miss Betsey Schuyler had a very pretty plan, which was nothing
less than that they should go to Europe on their wedding tour, Congress
to find his presence necessary at the Court of France. The suggestion
originated with Laurens, who had been asked to go as secretary to
Franklin. He had no wish to go, and knowing Hamilton's ardent desire to
visit Europe and growing impatience with his work, had recommended his
name to the Congress. General Schuyler would have procured a leave of
absence for his impending son-in-law, and sent the young couple to
Europe with his blessing and a heavy wallet, but Hamilton would as soon
have forged a man's name as travelled at his expense. He hoped that the
Congress would send him. He was keenly alive to the value of studying
Europe at first hand before he was called upon to help in the modelling
of the new Republic, and the vision of wandering in historic lands with
his bride kept him awake at night. Moreover, he was desperately tired of
his life at Headquarters. When the expedition to Staten Island was in
question, he asked Washington, through Lafayette, to give him the
command of a battalion which happened to be without a field-officer.
Washington refused, partly from those motives of policy to which he ever
showed an almost niggling adherence, but more because he could not spare
his most useful aide. Hamilton, who was bursting for action of any sort,
retired to his detested little office in angry disappointment. But he
was a philosopher. He adjusted himself to the Inevitable, and dismissed
the matter from his mind, after registering a vow that he would take
advantage of the first excuse which might offer to resign his position.
The Schuylers returned to Albany. The French fleet arrived, and hovered
well beyond the range of British guns, having no desire to risk an
engagement until reinforced. Its Admiral, Count Rochambeau, having a
grievance, Hamilton advised a personal conference.
"We might suggest that he meet us halfway--say at Wethersfield, near
Hartford," he added. "That would save us something in travelling
Washington sighed heavily. "We are worse off than you think," he said.
"I might scrape together money enough for half the journey, but no more.
Lafayette and his aide must go with us--to say nothing of the escort.
Think of the innkeepers' bills, for ourselves and horses. What to do I
confess I do not know, for I should confer with this Frenchman at once."
"Go we must, sir," said Hamilton, decidedly, "if we have to take up a
collection--why not? If an object cannot be accomplished one way, try
another." He stood up and emptied the contents of his pockets on the
table. "Only five hundred beggarly continentals," he said ruefully.
"However, who knows what treasures may line more careful pockets than
mine? I know they will come forth as spontaneously. Have I your
permission to try, sir?"
Washington nodded, and Hamilton ran downstairs, pressed Meade into
service, and together they made the round of the officers' quarters. He
returned at the end of an hour and threw a huge bundle of paper on the
table. "Only eight thousand dollars, sir," he said. "It's the best that
any man could do. But I think it may carry us through."
"It will have to," said Washington. "Remind me, my dear boy, if you see
me eating too much. I have such an appetite!"
They set out on their journey a week later, having communicated with
Rochambeau, who agreed to meet them at Wethersfield. All went well, for
the wretched inns were not exorbitant, until they reached Hartford. They
arrived late in the afternoon, weary and ravenous. After a bath and a
glimpse of luxurious beds, they marched to the dining room and sat down
to a sumptuous repast, whose like had greeted neither nostril nor palate
for many a day. The wines were mellow, the tobacco green, the
conversation gay until midnight. Hamilton sang "The Drum," and many
another song rang among the rafters. Washington retired first, bidding
the youngsters enjoy themselves. The young men arose at their accustomed
hour next morning, with appetites renewed, but waited in vain for their
Chief. Hamilton finally knocked at his door. There was no response, and
a servant told him that the General had gone out nearly an hour before.
He went in search, bidding Lafayette and M'Henry remain behind. As he
had anticipated, he found Washington in a secluded nook, engaged in
prayer. He waited a few moments, then coughed respectfully. Washington
immediately rose, his harassed face showing little relief.
"Is anything wrong, sir?" asked Hamilton, anxiously.
"Alas!" said the General, "I wonder that you, too, are not driven to
prayer, to intercede for help in this distressing predicament. Think of
that extravagant repast we consumed last night. God help me, but I was
so famished I never gave a thought to consequences. Unquestionably, the
breakfast will be on a like scale. _And we have but eight thousand
dollars with which to pay the bill_!"
"It is true! I never gave the matter a thought--I am cursedly
extravagant. And we must get home! I suppose we shall have to fast all
the way. Well, we've fasted before, and the memory of last night's
dinner may sustain us--"
"But this man's bill! How are we to meet it?"
"Shall I speak to him, sir? Tell him unreservedly our predicament--that
these wretched eight thousand dollars are all we have in the world?
Perhaps he is a good patriot, and will call the account square."
"Do," said Washington, "and come here and tell me what he says. I am too
mortified to show my face. I shall not enter the house again."
Hamilton walked slowly to the house, little caring for his errand. He
returned on a dead run.
"We are saved, sir!" he cried, almost in Washington's arms. "Governor
Trumbull has sent word to all the hostelries that we are to be his
guests while we are in the state of Connecticut!"
Washington said his prayers again, and ate two chickens for breakfast.
On the return from this conference, when approaching the house of
General Benedict Arnold, opposite West Point, where they were invited
for breakfast, Washington suddenly decided to accompany Lafayette, who
wished to inspect some earthworks.
"You need not come," he said to Hamilton and M'Henry.
"I know that you are both in love with Mrs. Arnold. Go on. We will join
The young men were greeted with effusion by the pretty hostess, with
absent reserve by her husband. Mrs. Arnold left the room to order that
the breakfast be delayed. While she was absent, a note was brought to
Arnold. He opened it, turned green, and rising hastily, announced that
his presence was demanded at West Point and left the room. The sound of
a smothered scream and fall came from above. A moment later the aides
heard the sound of galloping hoofs.
Their suspicions aroused, they ran outside. A messenger, with a despatch
from Colonel Jameson, awaited Washington's arrival. Hamilton tore open
the paper. It contained the news that a British spy had been captured
within the lines. In an instant Hamilton and M'Henry were on their
horses and off in pursuit of the fugitive. That Arnold was a traitor and
had fled to the British war-ship, _Vulture_, hovering in Haverstraw Bay,
a slower wit than Hamilton's would have assumed. The terrified scoundrel
was too quick for them. He had ridden over a precipice to the shore
below, and under protection of a flag of truce was far down the river
when his pursuers sighted him. They returned with all speed.
I shall not repeat the oft-told tale of Andre's capture, trial, and
death. Nowhere has it been so well told as by Hamilton himself, in a
letter to Laurens, printed at the time and universally read. It is only
necessary here to allude to his share in that unhappiest episode of the
war. When Washington reached the house his aide was engaged in consoling
Mrs. Arnold, who was shrieking and raving, weeping and fainting;
imposing on Hamilton a task varied and puzzling, even to one of his
schooling. But she was very young, very charming, and in a tragic
plight. Washington himself wiped away a tear, and for a moment forgot
the barely averted consequences of her husband's treason, while he
assisted Hamilton in assuaging a grief so bitter and so appealing. As
soon as was possible he sent her through the British lines.
But Hamilton quickly forgot Mrs. Arnold in his sympathy and admiration
for the unfortunate Andre. He conceived a quick and poignant friendship
for the brilliant accomplished young Englishman, with the dreamy soft
face of a girl, and a mettle which had brought him to destruction.
Hamilton did all he could to save him, short of suggesting to Andre to
ask Sir Henry Clinton to offer Arnold in exchange. He enlisted the
sympathy of the officers at West Point in the prisoner's behalf, gave up
his leisure to diverting Andre's mind, and persuaded Washington to delay
the execution and send an indirect suggestion to Clinton to offer the
exchange himself. When all hope was over, he personally begged
Washington to heed Andre's request for a soldier's death, and not
condemn such a man to the gibbet. Washington gladly would have saved his
interesting prisoner's life, and felt deeply for him, but again those
motives of policy prevailed, and Andre was executed like a common
Washington was in temporary quarters--a cramped and wretched tavern--at
Liberty Pole, New Jersey. The inaction being oppressive, Hamilton
concentrated his thoughts on the condition and needs of the country.
I am sorry that the same spirit of indifference to public affairs
prevails, [he wrote to Sears]. It is necessary we should rouse and
begin to do our business in earnest, or we shall play a losing
game. We must have a government with more power. We must have a tax
in kind. We must have a foreign loan. We must have a bank on the
true principles of a bank. We must have an administration distinct
from Congress, and in the hands of single men under their orders.
We must, above all things, have an army for the war.... We are told
here there is to be a Congress of the neutral powers at the Hague
for meditating of peace. God send it may be true. We want it; but
if the idea goes abroad, ten to one if we do not fancy the thing
done, and fall into a profound sleep till the cannon of the enemy
waken us next campaign. This is our national character.
Hamilton, the High Priest of Energy, had long since declared war against
the genius of the American people, who believed in God and the art of
leisure. Hamilton believed in God and a cabinet of zealous ministers. He
was already a thorn in the side of estimable but hesitant patriots, and
in times to come his unremitting and remorseless energy was to be a
subject of reproach by associates and enemies alike. Even Jefferson,
that idol of the present as of the past democracy, had timidly declared
against separation in 1774, while Hamilton, a boy of seventeen, had been
the first to suggest the resort to arms, and incessant in his endeavours
until the great result was accomplished. He had countless other schemes,
and he knew that eventually he would succeed in driving the American
people before the point of his quill. That his task would be long and
arduous did not daunt him for a moment. By this time he knew every want
of the country, and was determined upon the reorganization of the
government. The energy which is one of the distinguishing
characteristics of the American nation to-day was generated by Hamilton,
might, indeed, be said to be the persistence and diffusion of his ego.
For the matter of that, all that is greatest in this American evolution
of a century was typified in Hamilton. Not only his formidable energy,
but his unqualified honour and integrity, his unquenchable optimism, his
extraordinary nimbleness of mind and readiness of resource, his gay
good-nature, high spirits, and buoyancy, his light philosophy
effervescing above unsounded depths, his inability to see when he was
beaten, his remorseless industry, his hard common sense, combined with a
versatile cleverness which makes for shallowness in another race, his
careless generosity, his aptitude for detail and impatience of it, his
reckless bravery in war and intrepidity in peace, even his highly strung
nerves, excitability, and obliging readiness at all times for a fight,
raise him high above history as the genius of the American race. The
reverse side of the national character we owe to the greatest of his
rivals; as will be seen hereafter.
During the sojourn at Liberty Pole, Washington and he sat through many
nights discussing the imperative need of the reorganization of the
government, and the best methods by which it could be accomplished. The
result was Hamilton's letter to James Duane, an important member of the
This letter, no doubt the most remarkable of its kind ever written, and
as interesting to-day as when Hamilton conceived it, is far too long to
be quoted. It began with an exhaustive analysis of the reasons for the
failure of Congress to cope with a situation which was becoming more
threatening every hour, and urged the example of the Grecian republics
and the Swiss cantons against the attempted confederation of the States
without a strong centralized government. Lacking a common tie of
sufficient strength, the States would inevitably drift toward
independent sovereignty, and they had given signal proof in the matter
of raising troops, contributing money, and in their everlasting disputes
about boundary lines, as to the absolute lack of any common public
spirit. His remedy, in brief, was a convention of the States for the
purpose of creating a Federal Constitution, the distributing of the
powers of government into separate departments, with Presidents of War,
Marine, and Trade, a secretary of Foreign Affairs, and a Financier,
defining their prerogatives; the States to have no privileges beyond an
internal police for the protection of the property and the rights of
individuals, and to raise money by internal taxes; the army to be
recruited on a permanent establishment. In addition, there was an
elaborate system of taxation, by which the country could be supported in
all its emergencies. His favourite plan of a National Bank was
elaborated in minute detail, the immediate necessity for a foreign loan
dwelt upon with sharp reproof, and examples given of the recruiting of
armies in European states.
Out of a multitude of suggestions a few were adopted within a short
time, but the great central suggestion, the calling of a convention for
the purpose of creating a Federal Constitution, was to be hammered at
for many weary years before jealous States and unconfident patriots
could be persuaded to a measure so monarchical and so bold. But the
letter is on record, and nothing more logical, far-sighted, and
comprehensive ever was written. It contained the foundation-stones upon
which this government of the United States stands to-day. Congress put
on its spectacles and read it with many grunts, magnanimously expressing
admiration for a youth who had fearlessly grappled with questions which
addled older brains; but its audacious suggestions of a government
greater than Congress, and of a bank which would add to their troubles,
were not taken seriously for a moment.
Hamilton also found time to write a good many love letters. Here is one
I would not have you imagine, Miss, that I write you so often to
gratify your wishes or please your vanity; but merely to indulge
myself, and to comply with that restless propensity of my mind
which will not be happy unless I am doing something in which you
are concerned. This may seem a very idle disposition in a
philosopher and a soldier, but I can plead illustrious examples in
my justification. Achilles liked to have sacrificed Greece and his
glory to a female captive, and Anthony lost a world for a woman. I
am very sorry times are so changed as to oblige me to go to
antiquity for my apology, but I confess, to the disgrace of the
present time, that I have not been able to find as many who are as
far gone as myself in the laudable Zeal of the fair sex. I suspect,
however, if others knew the charm of my sweetheart as I do, I could
have a great number of competitors. I wish I could give you an idea
of her. You can have no conception of how sweet a girl she is. It
is only in my heart that her image is truly drawn. She has a lovely
form and still more lovely mind. She is all goodness, the gentlest,
the dearest, the tenderest of her sex. Ah, Betsey, how I love her!
His reiterated demand for a foreign loan, and the sending of a special
envoy to obtain it, at last wrung a reluctant consent from Congress.
Lafayette was his politic suggestion, and Congress would have indorsed
it, but that adventurous young hero had not come to America to return
and beg money on his own doorstep. There was a prospect of fighting in
the immediate future, and he was determined to add to his renown. The
choice then lay between Hamilton and Laurens, who had received the
thanks of Congress for his distinguished services in the field, and
whose father had been a president of that body. Lafayette and all the
Frenchmen were anxious that the mission be given to Hamilton. The former
went to Philadelphia and talked to half the Congress. He offered
Hamilton private letters which would introduce him to the best society
of Europe; adding, "I intend giving you the _key_ of the cabinet, as
well as of the societies which influence them."
Laurens, by this time, was eager to go. His father, who had started for
Holland as Minister Plenipotentiary, had been captured by the British
and confined in the Tower of London; the foreign mission would give him
an opportunity to attempt his liberation. Moreover, life was very dull
at present, and he knew himself to be possessed of diplomatic talents.
But he was also aware of Hamilton's ardent desire to visit Europe, all
that it would mean to that insatiate mind, his weariness of his present
position. Washington would give his consent to the temporary absence of
Hamilton, for the French money was the vital necessity of the Republic's
life, and he knew that his indomitable aide would not return without it
Therefore Laurens wrote to Hamilton, who was in Albany awaiting his
wedding-day, that he should resign in his favour, and congratulated him
on so brilliant and distinguished a honeymoon.
The struggle in Hamilton's mind was brief. The prospect of sailing with
his bride on a long and delightful journey that could not fail to bring
him highest honour had made his blood dance. Moreover, in the previous
month Washington had again refused his request for an independent
command. It took him but a short time to relinquish this cherished dream
when he thought of the unhappy plight of Mr. Laurens, and remembered the
deep anxiety of the son, often expressed. He wrote to Laurens,
withdrawing in the most decisive terms. Laurens was not to be outdone.
He loved his father, but he loved Hamilton more. He pressed the
appointment upon his friend, protesting that the affairs of the elder
Laurens would be quite as safe in his hands. Hamilton prevailed, and
Congress, having waited amiably while the two martial youths had it out,
unanimously appointed Laurens. He could not sail until February, and as
soon as the matter was decided obtained leave of absence and repaired in
all haste to Albany, to be present at Hamilton's wedding.
The wedding of Alexander Hamilton and Elizabeth Schuyler was the most
notable private event of the Revolution. The immense social and
political consequence of the Schuylers, and the romantic fame of the
young aide, of whom the greatest things possible were expected, brought
the aristocracy of New York and the Jersies to Albany despite the
inclement winter weather. The large house of the Schuylers gave a
prolonged hospitality to the women, and the men lodged in the
patriarchal little town. But although Hamilton was glad to see the
Livingstons, Sterlings, and Boudinots again, the greater number of the
guests interested him far less than a small group of weather-beaten
soldiers, of which this occasion was the happy cause of reunion. Troup
was there, full of youth and honours. He had received the thanks of
Congress for his services at Saratoga, and been appointed secretary of
the Board of War. Recently he had resigned from the army, and was
completing his law studies. Nicolas Fish came with Lafayette, whose
light artillery he commanded. He was known as a brave and gallant
soldier, and so excellent a disciplinarian that he had won the approval
and confidence of Washington. He still parted his little fringe in the
middle, and his face was as chubby as ever, his eyes as solemn.
Lafayette, who had brought a box full of clothes that had dazzled Paris,
embraced Hamilton with tears, but they were soon deep in conjectures of
the next campaign. Laurens, looking like a king in exile, wrung many
hearts. Hamilton's brother aides, unfortunately, were the more closely
bound by his absence, but they had despatched him with their blessing
and much chaffing.
The hall of the Schuyler mansion was about twenty feet square and
panelled in white. It was decorated with holly, and for three nights
before the wedding illuminated by hundreds of wax candles, while the
young people danced till three in the morning. The Schuyler house, long
accustomed to entertaining, had never been gayer, and no one was more
content than the chatelaine. Although she had been reasonably sure of
Elizabeth, there was no telling at what moment the maiden might yield to
the romantic mania of the time, and climb out of her window at night
while Hamilton stood shivering below. Now all danger was past, and Mrs.
Schuyler moved, large, placid, and still handsome, among her guests,
beaming so affectionately whenever she met Mrs. Carter's flashing eyes
that Peggy and Cornelia renewed their vows to elope when the hour and
the men arrived. General Schuyler, once more on the crest of public
approval, was always grave and stern, but he, too, breathed satisfaction
and relief. He was a tall man of military appearance, powerful,
muscular, slender; but as his nose was large and fleshy, and he wore a
ragged-looking wig with wings like Washington's, he could not be called
handsome. It was a noble countenance, however, and his black eyes
flashed and pierced.
As for Hamilton and Miss Schuyler, who had a trunk full of charming new
gowns, they were as happy as two children, and danced the night through.
They were married on the 20th, in the drawing-room, in front of the
splendid mantel, which the housewives had spent much time in admiring.
The bride wore the white which became her best, made with a long pointed
bodice and paniers, and lace that had been worn by the wife of the first
patroon. She had risen to the dignity of a wig, and her mass of black
hair was twisted mercilessly tight under the spreading white monstrosity
to which her veil was attached. Hamilton wore a black velvet coat, as
befitting his impending state. Its lining and the short trousers were of
white satin. His shapely legs were in white silk, his feet in pumps with
diamond buckles, the present of Lafayette. He, too, wore a wig,--a close
one, with a queue,--but he got rid of it immediately after the ceremony,
for it heated his head.
Hamilton had then reached his full height, about five feet six. His
bride was perhaps three inches shorter. The world vowed that never had
there been so pretty a couple, nor one so well matched in every way.
Both were the perfection of make, and the one as fair and fresh as a
Scot, the other a golden gipsy, the one all fire and energy, the other
docile and tender, but with sufficient spirit and intelligence. It is
seldom that the world so generously gives its blessing, but it might
have withheld it, for all that Hamilton and his bride would have cared.
Hamilton's honeymoon was brief. There was a mass of correspondence
awaiting him, and no place for a bride in the humble Dutch house at New
Windsor where Washington had gone into winter quarters. But the distance
was not great, and he could hope for flying leaves of absence.
Washington was not unsympathetic to lovers; he had been known to unbend
and advise his aides when complications threatened or a siege seemed
hopeless; and he had given Hamilton the longest leave possible.
Nevertheless, the bridegroom set forth, one harsh January morning, on
his long journey, over roads a foot deep in snow, and through solitary
winter forests, with any thing but an impassioned desire to see General
Washington again. Had he been returning to the command of a corps, with
a prospect of stirring events as soon as the snow melted, he would have
spurred his horse with high satisfaction, even though he left a bride
behind him; but to return to a drudgery which he hated the more for
having escaped it for three enchanted weeks, made his spirit turn its
back to the horse's head. He resolved anew to resign if an opportunity
offered. Four years of that particular sort of devotion to the patriot
cause were enough. He wished to demonstrate his patriotism in other
ways. He had accomplished the primary object for which Washington had
pressed him into service, and he believed that the war was nearing its
finish; there was nothing he could now do at Headquarters which the
other aides could not do as well, and he wanted military excitement and
renown while their possibilities existed.
The first task awaiting him upon his arrival at Headquarters was to draw
up a letter of instruction for Laurens, a task which required minute
care; for on its suggestions, as much as on Laurens's brilliant talents,
depended the strength of a mission whose failure might mean that of the
American arms. Laurens had requested the letter, and told Hamilton that
he should be guided by it. He did not anticipate a royal condition of
mind which would prompt him practically to carry off the French
money-bags under the king's astonished nose, and he knew Hamilton's
command of every argument connected with the painful subject of
financial needs. Hamilton drew up a lucid and comprehensive letter, in
nine parts, which Laurens could study at his leisure on the frigate,
_Alliance_; then attacked his accumulated duties. They left him little
leisure to remember he was a bridegroom, although he occasionally
directed his gaze toward the North with some longing. His freedom
approached, however, and it was swift and unexpected.
It came on the 16th of February. His office was in his bedroom. He had
just completed a letter containing instructions of an important nature
for the commissary, and started in search of Tilghman, whose duty it was
to see it safely delivered. On the stairs he passed Washington, whose
brow was heavy. The General, with that brevity which was an indication
of his passionate temper fighting against a self-control which he must
have knocked flat with great satisfaction at times, ejaculated that he
wished to speak with him at once. Hamilton replied that he would wait
upon him immediately, and hastened to Tilghman's office, wondering what
had occurred to stir the depths of his Chief. He was but a moment with
Tilghman, but on the stairs he met Lafayette, who was in search of him
upon a matter of business. It is possible that Hamilton should not have
permitted himself to be detained, but at all events he did, for perhaps
two minutes. Suddenly he became conscious that Washington was standing
at the head of the stairs, and wondering if he had awaited him there, he
abruptly broke off his conversation with Lafayette, and ran upward.
Washington looked as if about to thunder anathema upon the human race.
He had been annoyed since dawn, and his passions fairly flew at this
"Colonel Hamilton!" he exclaimed. "You have kept me waiting at the head
of the stairs these ten minutes. I must tell you, sir, you treat me with
Hamilton's eyes blazed and his head went back, but his quick brain leapt
to the long-desired opportunity. He replied as calmly as if his heart
were not thumping, "I am not conscious of it, sir, but since you have
thought it necessary to tell me so, we part."
"Very well, sir!" replied Washington, "if it be your choice!" He turned
his back and strode to his office.
Hamilton went to his room with a light heart, feeling as if the
pigeon-holes were marching out of his brain. The breach was
Washington's; he himself had answered with dignity, and could leave with
a clear conscience. He had not kept Washington waiting above four
minutes, and he did not feel that an apology was necessary.
"Oh," he thought aloud, "I feel as if I had grown wings." He would
return to his bride for a few weeks, then apply once more for a command.
There was a knock, and Tilghman entered. The young men looked at each
other in silence for a moment; Tilghman with an almost comical anxiety,
Hamilton with alert defiance.
"Well?" demanded Hamilton.
"I come from the Chief--ambassador extraordinary. Look out of the
window, or I shall not have courage to go on. He's put the devil to bed
and is monstrous sorry this misunderstanding has occurred--"
"Misunderstanding?" snorted Hamilton.
"You know my love of euphony, Hamilton. Pray let me finish. I'd rather
be Laurens on my way to beg. What is a king to a lion? But seriously, my
dear, the Chief is desperately sorry this has occurred. He has deputed
me to assure you of his great confidence in your abilities, integrity,
and usefulness, and of his desire, in a candid conversation, to heal a
difference which could not have happened but in a moment of passion. Do
go and see him at once, and then we shall all sleep in peace to-night."
But Hamilton shook his head decidedly. "You know how tired I am of all
this," he said, "and that I can be as useful and far more agreeably
active in the field. If I consent to this interview, I am lost. I have
never doubted the Chief's affection for me, but he is also the most
astute of men, and knows my weakness. If, arguments having failed, he
puts his arm about my shoulders and says, 'My boy, _do_ not desert me,'
I shall melt, and vow that neither bride nor glory could beckon me from
him. So listen attentively, mon ami, and deliver my answer as follows:
1st. I have taken my resolve in a manner not to be revoked, 2d. As a
conversation could serve no other purpose than to produce explanations,
mutually disagreeable, though I certainly will not refuse an interview
if he desires it, yet I should be happy if he would permit me to decline
it. 3d. That, though determined to leave the family, the same principles
which have kept me so long in it will continue to direct my conduct
toward him when out of it. 4th. That I do not wish to distress him or
the public business by quitting him before he can derive other
assistance by the return of some of the gentlemen who are absent. 5th.
And that in the meantime it depends on him to let our behaviour to each
other be the same as if nothing had happened."
Tilghman heaved a deep sigh. "Then you really mean to go?" he said.
"Heartless wretch! Have you no mercy on us? Headquarters will be a tomb,
with Washington reposing on top. Think of the long and solemn
breakfasts, the funereal dinners, the brief but awful suppers.
Washington will never open his mouth again, and I never had the courage
to speak first. If ever you deign to visit us, you will find that we
have lost the power of speech. I repeat that you have no heart in your
Hamilton laughed. "If you did not know that I love you, you would not
sit there and revile me. No family has ever been happier than ours. In
four years there has not been a quarrel until to-day. I can assure you
that my heart will ache when the time comes to leave you, but I really
had got to the end of my tether. I have long felt as if I could not go
on another day."
"'Tis grinding, monotonous work," admitted Tilghman, "and we've all
wondered how you have stood it as long as this--every bit of you was
made for action. Well, I'll take your message to the Chief."
Washington consented to waive the explanation and sent Hamilton another
message, thanking him for consenting to remain until Harrison and Meade
Little Mrs. Hamilton was delighted with the course affairs had taken,
and pleaded for resignation from the army. But to this Hamilton would
not hearken. Anxious as he was for the war to finish, that he might
begin upon the foundations of home and fortune, he had no intention of
deserting a cause to which he had pledged himself, and in which there
still was a chance for him to achieve distinction. So far, his ambitions
were wholly military. If the profound thought he had given to the
present and future needs of the Republic was not wholly impersonal; if
he took for granted that he had a part to play when the Revolution
finished, it was little more than a dream at present. His very
temperament was martial, the energy and impetuosity of his nature were
in their element on the battlefield, and he would rather have been a
great general than the elder Pitt. But although there is no reason to
doubt that he would have become a great general, had circumstance
favoured his pet ambition, yet Washington was a better judge of the
usefulness of his several abilities than he was himself. Not only had
that reader of men made up his mind that a brain like his favourite's
should not be wasted on the battlefield,--left there, perhaps, while
dolts escaped, for Hamilton had no appreciation of fear or danger,--but
he saw in him the future statesman, fertile, creative, executive,
commanding; and he could have no better training than at a desk in his
office. Phenomenally precocious, even mature, as Hamilton's brain had
been when they met that morning on the Heights of Harlem, these four
years had given it a structural growth which it would not have acquired
in camp life, and to which few men of forty were entitled. Of this fact
Hamilton was appreciative, and he was too philosophical to harbour
regrets; but that period was over now, and he wanted to fight.
On April 27th he wrote to Washington, asking for employment during the
approaching campaign, suggesting the command of a light corps, and
modestly but decidedly stating his claims.
Washington was greatly embarrassed. Every arbitrary appointment caused a
ferment in the army, where jealousies were hotter than martial ardours.
Washington was politic above all things, but to refuse Hamilton a
request after their quarrel and parting was the last thing he wished to
do. He felt that he had no choice, however, and wrote at once,
elaborating his reasons for refusal, ending as follows:--
My principal concern rises from an apprehension that you will
impute my refusal of your request to other motives than those I
have expressed, but I beg you to be assured I am only influenced by
the reasons I have mentioned.
Hamilton knew him too well to misunderstand him, but he was deeply
disappointed. He retired into the library behind the drawing-room of the
Schuyler mansion, and wrote another and a more elaborate letter to
Robert Morris. He began with a reiteration of the impotence of Congress,
its loss of the confidence of this country and of Europe, the necessity
for an executive ministry, and stated that the time was past to indulge
in hopes of foreign aid. The States must depend upon themselves, and
their only hope lay in a National Bank. There had been some diffidence
in his previous letter. There was none in this, and he had a greater
mastery of the subject. In something like thirty pages of close writing,
he lays down every law, extensive and minute, for the building of a
National Bank, and not the most remarkable thing about this letter is
the psychological knowledge it betrays of the American people. Having
despatched it, he wrote again to Washington, demonstrating that his case
was dissimilar from those the Chief had quoted. He disposed of each case
in turn, and his presentation of his own claims was equally
unanswerable. Washington, who was too wise to enter into a controversy
with Hamilton's pen, did not reply to the letter, but made up his mind
to do what he could for him, although still determined there should be
no disaffection in the army of his making.
Meanwhile Hamilton received letters from Lafayette, begging him to
hasten South and share his exile; from Washington, asking advice; and
from members of the family, reminding him of their affection and regret.
Tilghman's is characteristic:--
Headquarters, 27th April.
MY DEAR HAMILTON: Between me and thee there is a gulf, or I should
not have been thus long without seeing you. My faith is strong, but
not strong enough to attempt walking on the waters. You must not
suppose from my dealing so much in Scripture phrase that I am
either drunk with religion or with wine, though had I been inclined
to the latter I might have found a jolly companion in my lord, who
came here yesterday. We have not a word of news.... I must go over
and see you soon, for I am not yet weaned from you, nor do I desire
to be. I will not present so cold words as compliments to Mrs.
Hamilton. She has an equal share of the best wishes of
Your most affectionate
The following was from Laurens:--
I am indebted to you, my dear Hamilton, for two letters: the first
from Albany, as masterly a piece of cynicism as ever was penned;
the other from Philadelphia, dated the second March; in both you
mention a design of retiring, which makes me extremely unhappy. I
would not wish to have you for a moment withdraw from the public
service; at the same time my friendship for you, and knowledge of
your value to the United States, makes me most ardently desire that
you should fill only the first offices of the Republic. I was
flattered with an account of your being elected a delegate from New
York, and am much mortified not to hear it confirmed by yourself. I
must confess to you that at the present stage of the war, I should
prefer your going into Congress, and from thence becoming a
minister plenipotentiary for peace, to your remaining in the army,
where the dull system of seniority, and the _tableau_, would
prevent you from having the important commands to which you are
entitled; but, at any rate, I will not have you renounce your rank
unless you entered the career above mentioned. Your private affairs
cannot require such immediate and close attention. You speak like a
_paterfamilias_ surrounded with a numerous progeny.
On the 26th of May he had an appreciative letter from Robert Morris,
thanking him for his suggestions, and assuring him of their
acceptability. He promises a bank on Hamilton's plan, although with far
less capital; still it may afterward be increased to any extent.
The northern land was full of amenities, the river gay with pleasure
barges. The French gardens about the Schuyler mansion were romantic for
saunterings with the loveliest of brides; the seats beneath the great
trees commanded the wild heights opposite. Forty of the finest horses in
the country were in General Schuyler's stables, and many carriages.
There was a constant stream of distinguished guests. But Hamilton, who
could dally pleasurably for a short time, had no real affinity for
anything but work. There being no immediate prospect of fighting, he
retired again to the library and began that series of papers called _The
Continentalist_, which were read as attentively as if peace had come.
They examined the defects of the existing league of states, their
jealousies, which operated against the formation of a Federal
government, then proceeded to enumerate the powers with which such a
government should be clothed.
Hamilton did not wait with any particular grace, but even the desired
command came to him after a reasonable period of attempted patience. At
Washington's request he accompanied him to Newport to confer with
Rochambeau. Although the Chief did not allude to Hamilton's last letter,
their intercourse on this journey was as natural and intimate as ever;
and Washington did not conceal his pleasure in the society of this the
most captivating and endearing of his many young friends. After the
conference was over, Hamilton returned to Albany for a brief visit, then
determined to force Washington to show his hand. He joined the army at
Dobbs Ferry, and sent the Chief his commission. Tilghman returned with
it, express haste, and the assurance that the General would endeavour to
give him a command, nearly such as he could desire in the present
circumstance of the army, Hamilton had accomplished his object. He
retained his commission and quartered with General Lincoln.
When Washington arrived at Dobbs Ferry and went into temporary quarters,
he gave a large dinner to the French officers, and invited Hamilton to
His graceful manners and witty speeches provoked universal
admiration [runs the pen of a contemporary]. He was the youngest
and smallest man present. His hair was turned back from the
forehead, powdered, and queued at the back. His face was boyishly
fair, and lighted up with intelligence and genius. Washington,
grave, elegant and hospitable, sat at the side of the table, with
the accomplished Count de Rochambeau on his right. The Duke de
Luzerne occupied a seat opposite. General Knox was present, and so
was Baron Steuben.
Shortly afterward, Hamilton attended a council of war, at Washington's
invitation. The squadron of De Grasse was approaching the coast of
Virginia. For the second time, Washington was obliged to give up his
cherished scheme of marching on New York, for it was now imperative to
meet Cornwallis in the South. The Chief completely hoodwinked Clinton as
to his immediate plans, Robert Morris raised the funds for moving the
army, and Hamilton obtained his command. To his high satisfaction, Fish
was one of his officers. Immediately before his departure for the South
he wrote to his wife. He had attained his desire, but he was too unhappy
to be playful. A portion of the letter is as follows:--
A part of the army, my dear girl, is going to Virginia, and I must,
of necessity, be separated at a much greater distance from my
beloved wife. I cannot announce the fatal necessity without feeling
everything that a fond husband can feel. I am unhappy;--I am
unhappy beyond expression. I am unhappy because I am to be so
remote from you; because I am to hear from you less frequently than
I am accustomed to do. I am miserable because I know you will be
so; I am wretched at the idea of flying so far from you, without a
single hour's interview, to tell you all my pains and all my love.
But I cannot ask permission to visit you. It might be thought
improper to leave my corps at such a time and upon such an
occasion. I must go without seeing you--I must go without embracing
you:--alas! I must go.
The allied armies moved on the 22d of August and arrived within two
miles of the enemy's works at York Town, on the 28th of September.
Hamilton's light infantry was attached to the division of Lafayette, who
joined the main army with what was left of his own. Laurens was also in
command of a company of light infantry in the young French general's
division. He had acquitted himself brilliantly in France, returning, in
spite of all obstacles and the discouragement of Franklin, with two and
a half million livres in cash, part of a subsidy of six millions of
livres granted by the French king; but he felt that to be in the field
again with Washington, Hamilton, Lafayette, and Fish was higher fortune
than successful diplomacy.
The allied army was twelve thousand strong; Cornwallis had about
seventy-eight hundred men. The British commander was intrenched in the
village of York Town, the main body of his troops encamped on the open
grounds in the rear. York Town is situated on a peninsula formed by the
rivers York and James, and into this narrow compass Cornwallis had been
driven by the masterly tactics of Lafayette. The arrival of De Grasse's
fleet cut off all hope of retreat by water. He made but a show of
opposition during the eight days employed by the Americans in bringing
up their ordnance and making other preparations. On the 9th the trenches
were completed, and the Americans began the bombardment of the town and
of the British frigates in the river. It continued for nearly
twenty-four hours, and so persistent and terrific was the cannonading,
that the British, being unfortunate in their embrasures, withdrew most
of their cannon and made infrequent reply. On the night of the 11th new
trenches were begun within two and three hundred yards of the British
works. While they were completing, the enemy opened new embrasures, from
which their fire was far more effective than at first. Two redoubts
flanked this second parallel and desperately annoyed the men in the
trenches. It was determined to carry them by assault, and the American
light infantry and De Viomenil's grenadiers and chasseurs were ordered
to hold themselves in readiness for the attack. Laurens, with eighty
men, was to turn the redoubt in order to intercept the retreat of the
garrison, but Hamilton, for the moment, saw his long-coveted
opportunity glide by him. Washington had determined to give it to our
hero's old Elizabethtown tutor, Colonel Barber, conceiving that the
light infantry which had made the Virginia campaign was entitled to
precedence. Hamilton was standing with Major Fish when the news of this
arrangement was brought to him. He reached the General's tent in three
bounds, and poured forth the most impetuous appeal he had ever permitted
himself to launch at Washington. But he was terribly in earnest, and the
prospect of losing this magnificent opportunity tore down the barriers
of his self-possession. "It is my right to attack, sir!" he concluded
passionately, "I am the officer on duty!" Washington had watched his
flushed nervous face and flashing eyes, which had far more command in
their glances than appeal, and he never made great mistakes: he knew
that if he refused this request, Hamilton never would forgive him.
"Very well," he said. "Take it."
Hamilton ran back to Fish, crying: "We have it. We have it;" and
immediately began to form his troops. The order was issued to advance in
two columns, and after dark the march began, Hamilton leading the
advance corps. The French were to attack the redoubt on the right.
The signal was a shell from the American batteries, followed by one from
the French. The instant the French shell ascended, Hamilton gave the
order to advance at the point of the bayonet; then his impatience, too
long gnawing at its curb, dominated him, and he ran ahead of his men and
leaped to the abatis. For a half moment he stood alone on the parapet,
then Fish reached him, and together they encouraged the rest to come on.
Hamilton turned and sprang into the ditch, Fish following. The infantry
was close behind, and surmounting the abatis, ditch, and palisades,
leaped into the work. Hamilton had disappeared, and they feared he had
fallen, but he was investigating; he suddenly reappeared, and formed the
troops in the redoubt. It surrendered almost immediately. The attack
took but nine minutes, so irresistible was the impetuosity of the
onslaught. Hamilton gave orders at once to spare every man who had
ceased to fight. When Colonel Campbell advanced to surrender, one of the
American captains seized a bayonet and drew back to plunge it into the
Englishman's breast. Hamilton thrust it aside, and Campbell was made
prisoner by Laurens. Washington was delighted. "Few cases," he said,
"have exhibited greater proofs of intrepidity, coolness, and firmness
than were shown on this occasion." On the 17th, when Washington received
the proposition for surrender from Cornwallis, he sent for Hamilton and
asked his opinion of the terms. To Laurens was given the honour of
representing the American army at the conference before the surrender.
Tilghman rode, express haste, to Philadelphia with the first news of the
surrender of Cornwallis and his army.
Hamilton's description of his part in the conquest that virtually put an
end to the war is characteristic.
Two nights ago, my Eliza [he wrote], my duty and my honour obliged
me to take a step in which your happiness was too much risked. I
commanded an attack upon one of the enemy's redoubts; we carried it
in an instant and with little loss. You will see the particulars in
the Philadelphia papers. There will be, certainly, nothing more of
this kind; all the rest will be by approach; and if there should be
another occasion, it would not fall to my turn to execute it.
"It is to be hoped so," she said plaintively to her mother. "Else shall
I no longer need to wear a wig."
The next few years may be passed over quickly; they are not the most
interesting, though not the least happy of Hamilton's life. He returned
home on furlough after the battle of York Town and remained in his
father-in-law's hospitable home until the birth of his boy, on the 22d
of January. Then, having made up his mind that there was no further work
for him in the army, and that Britain was as tired of the war as the
States, he announced his intention to study for the bar. His friends
endeavoured to dissuade him from a career whose preparation was so long
and arduous, and reminded him of the public offices he could have for
the asking. But Hamilton was acquainted with his capacity for
annihilating work, and at this time he was not conscious of any
immediate ambition but of keeping his wife in a proper style and of
founding a fortune for the education of his children. His military
ambition had been so possessing that the sudden and brilliant finish at
York Town of his power to gratify it had dwarfed for a while any other
he may have cherished.
He took a little house in the long street on the river front, and
invited Troup to live with him. They studied together. He had been the
gayest of companions, the most courted of favourites, since his return
from the wars. For four months even his wife and Troup had, save on
Sundays, few words with him on unlegal matters. His brain excluded every
memory, every interest. For the first time he omitted to write regularly
to Mrs. Mitchell, Hugh Knox, and Peter Lytton. All day and half the
night he walked up and down his library, or his father-in-law's,
reading, memorizing, muttering aloud. His friends vowed that he marched
the length and width of the Confederacy. He never gave a more striking
exhibition of his control over the powers of his intellect than this.
The result was that at the end of four months he obtained a license to
practise as an attorney, and published a "Manual on the Practice of
Law," which, Troup tells us, "served as an instructive grammar to future
students, and became the groundwork of subsequent enlarged practical
treatises." If it be protested that these feats were impossible, I can
only reply that they are historic facts.
It was during these months of study that Aaron Burr came to Albany.
This young man, also, was not unknown to fame; and the period of the
Revolution is the one on which Burr's biographers should dilate, for it
was the only one through which he passed in a manner entirely to his
credit. He was now in Albany, striving for admittance to the bar, but
handicapped by the fact that he had studied only two years, instead of
the full three demanded by law.
While Burr did not belong to the aristocracy of the country, his family
not ranking by any means with the Schuylers, Van Rensselaers,
Livingstons, Jays, Morrises, Roosevelts, and others of that small and
haughty band, still he came of excellent and respectable stock. His
father had been the Rev. Aaron Burr, President of Princeton College, and
his mother the daughter of the famous Jonathan Edwards. He was
quick-witted and brilliant; and there is no adjective which qualifies
his ambition. He was a year older than Hamilton, about an inch taller,
and very dark. His features were well cut, his eyes black, glittering,
and cold; his bearing dignified but unimposing, for he bent his
shoulders and walked heavily. His face was not frank, even in youth, and
grew noticeably craftier. He and Hamilton were the greatest fops in
dress of their time; but while the elegance and beauty of attire sat
with a peculiar fitness on Hamilton, seeming but the natural
continuation of his high-bred face and easy erect and graceful bearing,
Burr always looked studiously well-dressed. In regard to their height, a
similar impression prevailed. One never forgot Burr's small stature, and
often commented upon it. Comment upon Hamilton's size was rare, his
proportions and motions were so harmonious; when he was on the platform,
that ruthless test of inches, he dominated and controlled every brain in
the audience, and his enemies vowed he was in league with the devil.
Burr brought letters to General Schuyler, and was politely given the run
of the library. He and Hamilton had met casually in the army, but had
had no opportunity for acquaintance. At this time the law was a subject
of common interest, and they exchanged many opinions. There was no shock
of antagonism at first, and for that matter they asked each other to
dinner as long as Hamilton lived. But Hamilton estimated him justly at
once, although, as Burr was as yet unconscious of the depths of his own
worst qualities, the most astute reader of character hardly would
suspect them. But Hamilton read that he was artificial and
unscrupulous, and too selfish to serve the country in any of her coming
needs. Still, he was brilliant and fascinating, and Hamilton asked him
to his home. Burr, at first, was agreeably attracted to Hamilton, whose
radiant disposition warmed his colder nature; but when he was forced to
accept the astounding fact that Hamilton had prepared himself for the
bar in four months, digesting and remembering a mountain of knowledge
that cost other men the labour of years, and had prepared a Manual
besides, he experienced the first convulsion of that jealousy which was
to become his controlling passion in later years. Indeed, he established
the habit with that first prolonged paroxysm, and he asked himself
sullenly why a nameless stranger, from an unheard-of Island, should have
the unprecedented success which this youth had had. Social victory,
military glory, the preference of Washington, the respect and admiration
of the most eminent men in the country, a horde of friends who talked of
him as if he were a demi-god, an alliance by marriage with the greatest
family in America, a father-in-law to advance any man's ambitions, a
fascination which had kept the women talking until he married, and
finally a memory and a legal faculty which had so astounded the
bar--largely composed of exceptional men--that it could talk of nothing
else: it was enough for a lifetime, and the man was only twenty-five.
What in heaven's name was to be expected of him before he finished? The
more Burr brooded, the more enraged he became. He had been brought up to
think himself extraordinary, although his guardian had occasionally